I was lifting weights yesterday and listening to a Jay-Z song, ‘The Rap Game/Crack Game’ from his second studio album, ‘In My Lifetime Vol. 1’.
I had to drop the weights, hit rewind, and listen to the lyrics again. And again.
Jay-Z compares rap to selling crack. But he also does a perfect job of describing the process of becoming successful in every damn part of the entertainment industry.
Self-published writers, this song is your new writing manifesto. Blare it several times daily and let it get into your soul. Listen to it through, then we’ll take a look at why writing and publishing, like rap, is just like slinging crack.
What writers can learn from crack dealers courtesy of Jay-Z
Jay starts off by talking about his attitude to customers and other artists.
For customers, the philosophy is simple: give them what they want.
In regards to other artists, he takes what they abandon.
The customer philosophy seems simple. But then why do I see so many self-published writers writing where there is no market? I’ve made this mistake too. Writers want to give the market what they want to write. Then they complain (boo-hoo) when no one wants to take it.
Solution? Know that there is a hungry market for what your selling. If there isn’t, sell something that has a hungry market!
Readers want familiar formulas done in new ways with new twists. The majority of readers don’t want you reinventing the wheel. If you do that, even if it’s damn good and damn clever, your work probably won’t take off until after you’re dead.
Many writers will complain about genre. But genre is noble. Writing in line with generic conventions is hard. It’s hard because, yes, there is a lot of derivative stuff. There is a lot of stuff that’s been done before. But do it well, nail the genre and cook up a different spin, and you’ll have a hot product.
If you want to understand genre and how to manipulate it, I recommend these two books:
Jay talks about taking what other artists abandon.
I’m pretty sure Jay-Z is saying that a lot of other rappers are leaving a ton of shit on the table. He’s gonna use it and exploit it. The others are gonna waste it.
Can you see where other writers have wasted opportunities?
Go to the review sections and read through the 3-star reviews. Ignore the raving/possibly payed 5-star reviews and ignore the hater 1-star reviews. The 3-star reviews will let you know, without much bias, what that writer abandoned. Then you can take it!
What do readers want in your genre? What do writers in that genre commonly fail to deliver to their audience? What are they busy concentrating on instead?
Next, Jay talks about giving the rapper a consignment.
Consignment is not something you wanna do. It’s where you get a ton of drugs without upfront payment, then you have to shift them and pay the supplier back. And if you can’t pay them back, oh boy…
Biggie’s advice: ‘if you ain’t got the clientele, say “hell no!”’
In ‘The Rap Game/Crack Game’, Jay is talking about how risky it is to produce a record that bombs.
You may not have your life on the line like in the crack world but you got your rep on the line and if you bomb you’re gonna have a hard time working again.
For writers, pretend you’re on consignment.
You gotta shift your shipment. It has to sell. It has to be good shit.
Once the product is “hot” (the crack/the record/the book), Jay says you gotta advertise and “let the fiends know” you’ve got “some dope shit”.
Think of your readers like drug fiends.
Would they go crazy for your shit? Would they come back for more?
Two shows I fiended for recently:
- House of Cards
- True Detective
Didn’t everyone? That was some hot shit.
I also fiended for those Cormoran Strike novels that J.K. Rowling put out under her Robert Galbraith pen name.
As well as making sure the product is “hot’, you gotta advertise.
I wrote about this here:
- 10 Things Writers Can Learn From Pokémon Go (number 7 on the list)
You gotta be your own hype master. Bookbub that shit. Post on forums. Get on podcasts.
Hustle and let the fiends know you got some dope shit.
Next, Jay talks about needing a middle man. In the rap world, the middle men are the radio stations. You let them “test the product” just like a crack dealer.
You already know your middle men. If you’re self-publishing, your middle-men are Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, etc.
Testing the product for us writers means nailing the cover, blurb, and opening preview.
You wanna grab their interest in those parts. You can have the best book in the world, but if you don’t nail that “promo show”, you won’t take off.
How much do you let them sample though?
According to Jay, just a bit, “not enough to catch a real vibe”. That’s when you hit them with the option to spend a little cash on the product.
You get their interest, they buy one of your lower-priced options, and after that you can up-sell them with book bundles/collections/audiobooks.
Or you can release your new work and put it on sale in order to build clientele. Once the demand is hot, you slap a premium price on the product.
Self-published writers can set a week-long promo on Amazon and have a count-down discount. Then, once the demand climbs due to purchases and reviews, your book goes back to its premium price.
The real price should NOT be 99 cents.
Readers are wise to this and know this often signifies poor quality.
Raise your price to what it deserves and model some of the big guys.
$5.99 – $7.99 for a novel on ebook is what we’re talking about here.
If you want to get in depth about pricing, check out Dean Wesley Smith’s guide to pricing and thinking like a publisher.
Jay talks about his work getting you high for just a short time, then you’re gonna need another fix.
That’s the same with creating great writing.
You want your readers to get high off your smoke.
Get them high off the fantasy you’ve created. Let them whizz through the whole thing and leave them craving another fix.
And what do you give them when they need another fix?
You give them even better stuff. In Jay’s words, you “get on some other shit”.
Once you got the cash flow coming in, you wanna reinvest in your business, make it even better. This means you get better covers, better editors, take more courses, and constantly evolve.
Your next book needs to be better than your last.
Jay has this great line in the song: ‘Never pitchin for a label’.
Jay-Z had his own label when he came on the scene, Rocafella. He owns his music. Unlike many of the other artists out there.
Writers can learn something from this. You shouldn’t be begging publishers for creative decisions and giving away your rights for 20% of the cut.
Jay-Z is the top dog. And you should be too.
That’s why self-publishing is the future and traditional publishing companies are running scared.
To wrap up, Jay talks about going from an “eighth to a quarter to a half a key”. Whether you’re familiar with drug lingo or not, the message is clear.
You gotta start somewhere and work your way up, whether its slinging crack, peddling rap, or publishing.
You might be small now but publish like a crack dealer and conduct your business like a pro. You’ll make the big time in no time.
P.S. Check out Jay-Z talking about his writing process:
And here is Jay-Z talking about where he grew up: